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Thread: Small-scale lighting technique for interior portraits

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Small-scale lighting technique for interior portraits

    I'm embarking on a largish project which will include two different types of interior portrait. Before these new LF days I have been an exclusively natural light photographer, preferring to use faster film indoors and available light. So much so that I only know the rudiments of using flash. As my LF lenses are rather slower than I'm used to I'm looking into buying a small flash (probably a Metz 45) to blast a bit more light on my subject.

    The first situation would be portraits on well lit interiors. think shopping mall well lit. There I would probably only need a small amount of fill, and is less of a problem. My second situation is home interior portraits. For these, even with the fast film, and even on the brightest day (here in London, there aren't that many of those), I would need to add some light.

    I have two questions really. Firstly I'd like to have a relatively even exposure across the subject and the room. Obviously I can use a longer shutter speed to expose for the ambient light and control the flash with the aperture. I'm worried though, that the longer shutter speed will allow the subject to blur slightly around the blast of flash. Do any of you have experiencing balancing interiors like this and if so, have any tips?

    Secondly, I'm wondering how best to soften the blast of the Flash. Do those clip-on diffusers do much in this regard? Or should I look into a softbox. Ideally I want a portable "window" of light. But that may be pushing it without a bigger set up.

    I'm really keen on keeping the setup as simple as possible. Dragging a large format camera into a stranger's house will be intrusive enough and I don't want to have a massive lighting rig to go with it. I should say that I'm looking at shooting colour negatives (probably 400 ASA) using a Wista 45 field. Really I want a natural and spontaneous look, not rigid, upright sitters.

    I'm going to start another thread in a minute too, about famous others' techniques. Kind of complimentary to this thread really as I'd love to know how some things are achieved.

    Thanks for your help.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Re: Small-scale lighting technique for interior portraits

    Below is a link to a site describing a basic lighting set-up, and to a strobe manufacturer with some info on their site.

    LF requires lots of light if you want to stop down to achieve depth of field. Light modifies, such as a softbox, will attenuate light output by at least one or two stops.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    macon GA

    Re: Small-scale lighting technique for interior portraits

    If you are shooting color the biggest problem is going to be color balance, unless the available light is all daylight. In a Mall my guess would be some sort of green vapor lights or flourescent. You will definately want a small softbox to soften the light.

  4. #4

    Re: Small-scale lighting technique for interior portraits

    One thing with well lit artficially lit interiors, like shopping malls, is that they might be flourescant. That might create a colour cast on your images, though it can be cool looking if you are going after a Matrix style of images (greenish cast).

    Sometimes plugging into that wall at a place might not be a good idea, or you might want to avoid having a trip hazard of power cords or wires. In those situations, small slave strobes can be a good idea. A company called Morris makes some really good ones. They also make these nice little slave strobes that fit into light fixtures like a bulb, and provide a more white light than room lighting. Other than the Morris items, and a few companies that make similar stuff, you can try flash units for 35mm gear, like your Metz.

    Since I have lots of Nikon 35mm gear, I also have several Speedlights. The old SB-26 has a slave built into it, with a syncronous or delay setting. I once read about someone who photographs airplanes and just carries a box of these to light the planes, so adding more should provide lots of extra light. Nikon makes an item called an AS-19 Speedlight stand, small plastic item with a tripod screw mount on the bottom. Place an SB-26 on an AS-19, and you can set it anywhere, then point the head in any direction.

    After using lots of different bounce flash items from Lumiquest, I finally went towards the Sto-Fen plastic slip on diffusers. The results are so close to not be distinguishable, though the Sto-Fen is more durable than the Lumiquest items. This to me is better than simply running the flash bare.

    A problem with using small flash units is that they tend to cast more shadow behind the subject. You can correct that a bit by putting another slave flash slightly behind the subject to knock down the shadows. When you need more light, and if the power settings are already at maximum, then just add another flash unit beside the current one.

    Still take along and use regular reflectors. You might even try shooting through some reflectors, if you want a less harsh lighting set-up. Use reflectors to bounce or redirect your flash.

    All this takes some experimenting. A good flash to ambient reading on your light meter can give you a good idea of shutter settings to expose the background more, though I usually like to shoot a Polaroid or two to check the lighting. Best of luck with this.


    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio

  5. #5

    Join Date
    May 2000
    Tamworth, Staffordshire. U.K.

    Re: Small-scale lighting technique for interior portraits

    olho (I doubt that),
    In the past I've used the security type of lights sold at B&Q etc. They come as 500 watts and 350 watts. Yeah they get a bit hot for the subject but they work. I've used tungsten balanced film with conventional hot lights for colour and I was very pleased with the results.
    Good luck,

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Re: Small-scale lighting technique for interior portraits

    You need some sort of diffusion -- umbrella, softbox, bounce -- off the lens axis. I like hot lights so I can see what I'm doing YMMV. has more lighting info that this site, which is biased towards rock and tree lovers

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Aug 2000

    Re: Small-scale lighting technique for interior portraits

    In a home situation the simplest method for softening the light is to bounce it off a wall opposite the sitter, or to one side.
    The closer the source is to the wall, the more light will reach the subject. If the subject is close to the wall opposite the lit one, there should be sufficient fill to make a nice balance in the lighting.
    Unlike many photographers, i prefer to photograph people with large apertures. I like the effect, and I don't need as much light. Often my biggest problem is to reduce the light enough to use the large apertures. I have even been known to use modeling lights of the strobes to make the exposures.

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